The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici, is the story of Catherine de Medici—as told from her point of view. The novel opens in 1527 on the eve of major rebellion in Florence, when Catherine is eight years old, and continues through the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and beyond. From an early age, Catherine becomes deeply involved in magic, becoming friends with the astrologer Cosimo Ruggieri, even as she struggles to protect her husband and children and keep the Valois family on the throne of France. In addition, Catherine is haunted by strange, blood-filled dreams.
I really enjoyed the story of this novel. Character development is strong, though the narration the author uses for Catherine at the age of eight sounds strangely adult-like. I enjoyed watching the interplay between Catherine and Ruggieri. Catherine’s reputation was tarnished by a lot of factors, but she actually comes across quite well in this book, as a strong woman who would do anything for her family—even though the Valois family were tainted by death. It was interesting to me to see how strong Catherine’s influence was, even after the death of King Henri—even as Queen Mother, people still called her Madame la Reine. It would have been interesting, however, to have seen what Catherine’s true feelings were for Diane de Poitiers—in the novel, Catherine feels a lot of ambivalence towards Henri’s longtime mistress. And absolutely no mention is made of Catherine’s role as a patroness of the arts. The author also gets a couple of biographical details wrong--in the book, she says that Henri II's birthday is March 13th and that his Sun sign is Aries (which is incorrect; March 13 falls under the sign of Pisces). However, Henri's birthdate was really March 31. Typo, perhaps? A minor detail, but it made me wonder how much else the author might have gotten wrong.
Kalogridis’s strength is description, though she does have a habit of describing over and over again how tall Henri was, and how short Catherine was. And the narration does jump around a lot, using the “years passed…” device. And there are a couple of—how shall I say—graphic scenes in the novel, which might not appeal to some. But otherwise, I enjoyed this novel—though a better one about the period is CW Gortner’s The Last Queen (incidentally, he's also writing a version of Catherine's story, for publication next year).
Also reviewed by: The Printed Page, Books 'N Border Collies, Devourer of Books, Tanzanite's Shelf